Coun­tries sign pact of pro­tec­tion

Global fund to be cre­ated to pre­vent de­struc­tion like that car­ried out by IS

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Abu Dhabi

France com­mit­ted $30 mil­lion to­ward pro­tect­ing cul­tural her­itage sites dur­ing wartime on Satur­day, a first step in the cre­ation of an in­ter­na­tional fund aimed at pre­vent­ing de­struc­tion like that car­ried out by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande an­nounced the con­tri­bu­tion dur­ing a con­fer­ence jointly or­ga­nized by France and the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. Back­ers of the Safe­guard­ing En­dan­gered Cul­tural Her­itage con­fer­ence hope to at­tract an ini­tial $100 mil­lion for the fund.

In co­or­di­na­tion with UNESCO, it aims to pre­vent or stop de­struc­tion of his­tor­i­cal sites, fight traf­fick­ing of stolen ar­ti­facts and pay for the restora­tion of sites dam­aged by war.

They also seek to cre­ate a net­work of sites around the world where ar­ti­facts en­dan­gered by fight­ing or ter­ror­ism could be tem­po­rar­ily stored for safe­keep­ing.

“What we have to do to­day, and what we have man­aged to do, is to en­sure the future of what is pre­cious to hu­man­ity,” Hol­lande told dig­ni­taries at a ho­tel in the Emi­rati cap­i­tal. “It is al­ready late.”

IS has de­lib­er­ately stolen or de­stroyed cul­tural ar­ti­facts in ar­eas they’ve seized, in­clud­ing the de­struc­tion of the an­cient Syr­ian town of Palmyra, and the loot­ing of the Mo­sul mu­seum.

Just last month, Iraqi forces re­took the 13th cen­tury B.C. Assyr­ian cap­i­tal of Nim­rud, south of Mo­sul, from the mil­i­tant group. They found in­tri­cate re­liefs smashed to pieces.

The con­fer­ence was the cen­ter­piece of Hol­lande’s two-day visit to the Emirates. He ar­rived on Fri­day, a day af­ter sur­pris­ing France by an­nounc­ing he would not seek a sec­ond term as the So­cial­ist can­di­date in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

France has built in­creas­ingly strong ties to the sev­en­state Emirates fed­er­a­tion over the years. Cul­tural out­reach is a key pil­lar of that ef­fort, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a satel­lite cam­pus of the renowned Sor­bonne Univer­sity in Abu Dhabi a decade ago.

Work­ers are still putting the fin­ish­ing touches on a much-hyped branch of the Lou­vre art mu­seum, which will be the cen­ter­piece of an am­bi­tious cul­tural dis­trict on

What we have to do to­day ... is to en­sure the future of what is pre­cious to hu­man­ity.” Fran­cois Hol­lande, French pres­i­dent

Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Is­land.

The project has faced re­peated de­lays that have pushed its open­ing back by years, and it has at­tracted crit­i­cism from hu­man rights cam­paign­ers over the treat­ment of mi­grant work­ers in­volved in its con­struc­tion. It is now ex­pected to open some­time next year.

Hol­lande paid a visit to the Lou­vre site on Satur­day morn­ing be­fore meet­ing with French ex­pa­tri­ates based in the Emirates. He briefly ad­dressed his de­ci­sion to not seek re-elec­tion at the lat­ter stop, say­ing he would con­tinue to drive France for­ward “within the frame­work of its ideals and val­ues” un­til he steps down in May.

Hol­lande was also meet­ing with French troops dur­ing his trip.

For­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy opened France’s first mil­i­tary base in the Per­sian Gulf in the Emi­rati cap­i­tal in 2009. The out­post in­cludes fa­cil­i­ties for air, naval and ground forces.

The agree­ment on the fund came as Swiss au­thor­i­ties said on Fri­day they had seized cul­tural relics looted from Syria’s an­cient city of Palmyra, as well as from Libya and Ye­men, which were be­ing stored in Geneva’s free ports.

The free ports pro­vide highly se­cured ware­houses where ba­si­cally any­thing can be stashed tax-free with few ques­tions asked.

The con­fis­cated ob­jects, from the third and fourth cen­turies, in­clude a head of Aphrodite and two fu­ne­real bas-re­liefs.

Most of the items reached Switzer­land via Qatar and were taken by loot­ers, Geneva’s pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor said in a state­ment.

They were de­posited at the free ports in 2009 and 2010 and the alarm was first raised in April 2013 dur­ing a cus­toms in­spec­tion, pros­e­cu­tors added. It was not im­me­di­ately clear when they were seized.

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